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Front line workers to receive extra hazard pay from the state

  • Peterborough Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Walker on scene at a motor vehicle crash in Sharon on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Peterborough Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Walker on scene at a motor vehicle crash in Sharon on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/6/2020 6:10:14 PM

First responders are among those receiving a boost from the next wave of coronavirus aid from the state, with full-time ambulance, police and fire personnel expected to receive up a $300 weekly stipend as hazard pay.

The $300 stipend is for workers who regularly work more than 30 hours per week or at least 130 hours per month. Part-time, per diem, and volunteer services are also eligible for funds, though they can only receive up to $150 weekly in aid.

A total of $25 million is available for New Hampshire public safety personnel as part of the CARES act, the $2.2 trillion federal relief package passed by the legislature and approved by President Donald Trump in March.

Those eligible for the package must be a first responder whose job requires them to interact with the public, or to be out among the general public. Those whose roles do not require them to be in physical contact with people do not qualify.

Recipients are only eligible for one first responder stipend payment per week.

Jaffrey Police Chief Todd Muilenberg said Wednesday that the department has already had to deal with multiple citizens, who, during the course of an investigation or arrest, have claimed to have, or previously have, or to be showing symptoms of, COVID-19.

In some of those cases, Muilenberg said, it appears that the person is trying to make things more difficult for officers or to delay an arrest, but each time, police must treat it as though the person is actually infected.

“Unfortunately, we still have a job to do. We’re using personal protection equipment, and each time, we assess whether to call [emergency medical services] or to take them to the hospital. We’re trying to do everything as professionally as possible,” Muilenberg said.

Peterborough Police Chief Scott Guinard said its a tactic that is becoming prevalent in the United States at the moment, and his officers have protocols in place in case someone claims to be infected with COVID-19.

“This is becoming common practice, unfortunately,” Guinard said. “The Department of Justice has been very good about sharing information with law enforcement, and we have personal protective equipment.”

Ed Walker, chief of Peterborough’s Fire and Rescue departments, said that often when they are responding to a call, it is less likely to be contentious, but because they respond to medical calls, they are also more likely to be exposed to people genuinely experiencing flu or COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’ve been fairly fortunate in this area that we haven’t had a ton of COVID cases, but we have had a huge amount of people who experience potential symptoms,” Walker said. “That’s a concern.”

Walker said the stipend was “an acknowledgement” that first responders are putting themselves at risk to treat patients and interact with the public, for the public good.

“People are still having strokes, falling and breaking bones, and having heart attacks, and some of those people also have COVID symptoms,” Walker said. “The assumption always has to be, if you’re symptomatic, we treat you like you have it. Until proven otherwise, that person has COVID, and we interact with them in the way that ensures both our safety and that of the patient.”

Wilton Ambulance Administrator Sherry Miller, who is also the Deputy Chief for the Antrim Ambulance, said that though many local ambulance crews are staffed with per diem, on call or volunteer workers, they will still see the stipend checks.

Though all of the Wilton Ambulance crew are considered per diem employees, for the purposes of the stimulus checks, five members of the department qualify as “full time” due to the amount of hours they regularly work, while the other 12 members will receive the “part time” payment, Miller said.

And in some towns, including Antrim, Miller said, crews may be working short. In Antrim, the volunteer department works with on-call EMTs and paramedics, some of whom are not working at this time, either because of potential risk factors, or in the case of one paramedic, because of a full-time paramedic job on another ambulance. Other workers have had to pick up the extra work, she said.

Miller said both Wilton Ambulance – which provides services to Greenfield, Lyndeborough and Wilton – and Antrim Ambulance have been dispatched to locations where there is either a positive COVID-19 case, or someone showing potential symptoms.

“It is hazard pay. We’re the first going in, putting ourselves at risk, risking taking it home to our families,” Miller said.

Individual departments must apply to the state to receive the stimulus funds, which are paid to the town and dispersed to workers through their paychecks. The process for applying for the stimulus can be found on the New Hampshire Department of Safety website.

Any questions about the eligibility to receive the stipend can be directed to covidhazardpay@dos.nh.gov or the State Emergency Operations Center at 271-2231.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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